They’re funny things, funerals. Not ha-ha funny, clearly, and usually not weird funny either. Funerals and wakes. Just funny, odd, somehow counterintuitive when you think about it for too long. Not that I’m the man to ask about funerals. I’ve only been to three, and one of them was yesterday. Before that there was a grandparent twenty odd years ago and another grandparent not a long longer before that. And that’s it (unless I’ve forgotten one, in which case it must have been very forgettable, and I bet I wish I hadn’t said that soon). If you wanted to be blunt about it a funeral isn’t a lot much more than dealing with a dead body, but of course beyond that bottom line it all depends how far you want to go. Yesterday’s was a funeral for a neighbour. He was a good man, and when I stop to think about him not being around anymore it makes me sad. He wasn’t family and I wouldn’t even go as far as to say he was a friend in the traditional sense, but he was a bloody good bloke and he was very good to us and I did love the old bugger. And I don’t think I ever mentioned that to him. Damn. Well, why would I anyway? It was bloody obvious he was a bloody good bloke.
The funeral had the kind of turn out that any dead body in a coffin would be proud of. There’s the counterintuitive thing kicking in: what’s the point in having a good turnout if you’re not there to see it? Wifey said it would be better to have the party just before you died, so that you could enjoy the company of friends and family first, and she was quite right in one sense. Alas, life and death don’t always work that way and I thought that if you weren’t careful the whole event might have such a profound sense of melancholy hanging over it that it might just end up a grotty soup of tears and relentless maudlin, but mixed in with added regret and a lingering fog of waste. So until we can find some middle ground perhaps funerals are done best in the order they come, with death being very much the first part.
Only even that isn’t true, as witnessed by just how much you are able to plan your own funeral. It seems to me that life can get miserable enough without spending your time alive pumping money and effort at some pre-arranged ‘Option A* Platinum Deluxe Experience’, or realising it probably wasn’t worth you even being alive in the first place when signing off on an ‘Option H Super Saver Eco Send Off’, where your corpse is hacked up and the parts entered into a meat auction round the back of your least favourite local pub. There is a Co-Op funeral ‘shop’ near us and everyone in the display photos seem remarkably chipper about contemplating their impending doom, but I wonder if that’s because they have £300,000 worth of credit card debt they haven’t told their partner about and are secretly hoping that the terminal cancer they can feel chewing through their bones will get a move on before the shit really hits the fan. Personally I wouldn’t want to saddle myself or anyone else with the financial burden of my funeral arrangements, but if I really had to choose I would definitely opt to let someone else take the hit; though frankly you can save money on the coffin and just prop my naked, grey corpse on top of an IKEA beanbag and set the whole lot up in flames. You could even wait until bonfire night and kill two birds with one stone. Might upset the snowflake kids though.
While pre-booking your own funeral is the in thing these days your guests’ attire is clearly less of an issue. Since we are no longer living in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign it seems people are far less fussy about what they wear. The sense of love and warmth being generated yesterday was palpable, and since that is what really counts you can make excuses for almost any kind of sartorial angle, but when I found myself walking past the coffin behind a man wearing shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops (seriously, he was) I did wonder whether I was in completely the wrong place altogether. In fairness he had made the effort to co-ordinate in black but I did wonder if he had turned up expecting to impart some wisdom relating to the day to day trials of being a swimming pool attendant. There was another old boy defiantly dressed in tracksuit bottoms, but since he looked like he was dying himself during most of the service I thought better than to bring it up. My only faux pas was that I had no black socks to wear but then I reasoned that life can be dark enough without ever having a reason to wear plain black socks, and so I forgave myself and wiggled my toes in a pair of multi coloured polka dotters instead and simply made a point of not flashing my ankles at anyone.
So, the funeral went without a hitch. Indeed I’d go as far as to say it was perfect, and if I somehow missed something crucial it was at the very least, and most fittingly, a beautiful affair. It was also wonderful to see how much the man was admired: the gathering easily topped a hundred heads. When I go out, wrapped in cling film and crammed into a cheap suitcase saturated in lighter fluid, I doubt I’ll get anywhere near as many people coming to my funeral; unless I make a concerted effort to make some babies and find at least a hundred new, close friends in the next few years. And that ain’t going to happen. We wandered up to the drinks do afterwards but didn’t stay long: this was a big family and even after an hour it was clear this was a big family that wanted to big drink and big be together, and we definitely didn’t want to spoil their ambience. In retrospect I regret not making the effort to chat to him more in his last months, but that will forever bother me more than it for never will him. Ultimately I was grateful to be part of it all and to see a glimpse of humanity on its best behaviour and doing what was right – honouring the worthy and the gone. It’s very necessary to remember the difference between people who think they’re important and people who actually matter. He mattered, and that made him a much more special kind of important. I miss him. He was a bloody good bloke.
G B Hewitt. 16.09.2021